Slow metabolism? How I uncover what holds clients back

slow metabolism

It’s so common for women to set out with a goal of losing weight, drop a few pounds, and then hit a wall—leaving them feeling upset, overwhelmed, and wondering what went wrong. Or maybe they do lose weight, but have to implement extreme measures to do it (working out 2 hours a day 6 or 7 days a week, restricting calories, following a strict meal plan, etcetera). And once those unsustainable measures fall away, the weight creeps back up. But it is 100% possible to overcome weight-loss resistance. And the answer has to do with much more than calorie intake or how often you’re working out.

To overcome weight-loss resistance, let’s check your stress first

First and foremost, stress works against weight-loss goals, as well as overall health. The stress response evolved to help us run from an acute, dangerous situation. Short-term, stress hormones increase blood sugar, blood pressure, and metabolism, while they decrease immune, digestive, and reproductive function in order to fuel you with the energy to survive.

However, no one’s body is designed to withstand stress on an ongoing basis. And in today’s busy modern world, many of us suffer from chronic stress, without even being consciously aware of it. Because chronic stress raises cortisol to levels that are unnatural over time, it’s the root cause of a lot of health issues.

How stress directly affects your weight loss

Insulin is a hormone that helps bring glucose into the cells. Glucose is used to fuel cellular metabolism, supplying the body with energy. The stress hormone cortisol, too much sugar or too many carbs, or both, can elevate your blood sugar and cause it to be too high for too long. Stress alone can lead to chronically elevated glucose levels. 

High glucose turns off your ability to access fat stores

Unfortunately, chronically high glucose turns off the body’s ability to use fat stores for energy. (This is actually a survival mechanism.) The insulin receptors on cells eventually can start to wear out. It becomes more difficult for glucose to get into cells and provide energy. When this happens, you might notice you feel tired even when you shouldn’t. You may experience hypoglycemic episodes or be unable to lose weight. This condition is called insulin resistance. It’s a challenge with weight loss and a precursor to developing pre-diabetes. Fasting insulin levels will be elevated in advance of HgA1C values and can be tested by a healthcare provider.   

Real ways to overcome your overactive stress response

Incorporating a daily stress-management strategy can be really helpful to lowering anxiety and achieving goals. One of the easiest strategies to implement for beginners is gratitude journaling. (Here’s one I have used and love.) Doing a quick journal before bed helps women “brain dump” their thoughts, so you can sleep better and stress less. Targeted coaching is another tactic that works well.

Get in activity with a technique called “time blocking”

Being active also helps reduce stress over time and also directly helps with weight loss. Don’t just put it on your to-do list. Time block. It’s the best way to make sure you get your workout in. It lets you set consistent times each week for various tasks, from work to house chores to grocery shopping, meal planning, and exercise. Being more intentional in how you spend time reduces stress levels and hormones that work against weight loss (and that help fuel other health conditions). It also makes it more likely that you’ll get healthy food and exercise into your busy day-to-day, because you have a well-laid plan to make it all happen.

Other ways to be active

No time to exercise or missed out on time-blocking for the day? There are other ways to get movement in on a regular basis. Can you park far away in the parking lot to increase your steps for the day? Take the stairs instead of the elevator? Can you have a dance party with you kids after school, or just play outside with them? All of these count toward being active.

How to optimize workouts for health and metabolism

Once you’ve curbed stress, taking steps to increase your metabolism can also help you maintain your weight or overcome weight-loss plateaus. Contrary to popular belief, cardio isn’t the only or best way to shed pounds and decrease your body-fat percentage.

Resistance training

Weight (resistance) training is more effective than focusing on cardio. One pound of muscle burns almost three times the amount of calories as one pound of fat. So, by increasing your muscle mass, you can increase your resting metabolic rate—the calories you burn while you’re sleeping and sitting around. Resistance training also helps improve thyroid function. Thyroid hormones are key to your metabolism, or how your body uses or stores energy. 

Interval training

Interval training helps many women push through weight-loss resistance. With interval training, you mix short bursts of high-intensity cardio with intervals of lower intensity exercise. It’s so helpful because it creates excess post oxygen consumption, or EPOC. We sometimes refer to EPOC as the “afterburn effect.” It keeps you burning fat for another two hours after your workout. Interval training also helps with positive gene expression and cellular stress.  

Eating to overcome weight-loss resistance

Macro-counting can work and has become popular. Anyone who is having success with it can keep it up. But for many people, tracking macros, counting calories, and weighing food add another layer of complexity to their day and makes it harder to reach their goals over the long term because these tactics are not sustainable. There are simple, foundational steps surrounding food that you can take without counting calories or tracking everything you eat.

The right fats can help you lose fat

For anyone without much time to work out, there is a lot of opportunity to improve our health by eating better (lean protein, vegetables, limit the sugar, etcetera). Carbohydrates, especially low-fiber carbohydrates, have the biggest impact on our blood sugar levels and should be limited (for fruits and vegetables, of course). Protein also has a slight glycemic effect, due to it raising the hormone glucagon.   

Getting healthy fats into the diet is also important.  You’ll want your cellular metabolism to be firing as optimally as possible. At a cellular level, it’s important to consume high-quality fats, especially omega-3 fats. These improve our cellular membranes and also fight inflammation. 

  • Fish oil and flax meal are two great sources of omega-3 fats
  • Avocado, coconut oil, and olive oil are high in oleic acid and also help cellular function. 
  • Limit restaurant and processed foods. Many use vegetable oils that are more inflammatory, which will work against your goals.  

Slow and steady accountability wins the race

There isn’t a quick fix to weight-loss resistance. It’s not a sprint. Trying to make too many lifestyle changes too fast can backfire and lead to bingeing or giving up. With my clients, I focus on small, incremental steps that make short-term impact and success. These steps build on one another and are foundational to achieving large, long-term goals. For more info on weight-loss resistance, grab my free e-book, Master Your Metabolism.

Rachel Rotabi, PT, PN L1, AFMC L1
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